Jay Street Through the Archives
// December 2011 //
— — —
// September 14, 2011 //
Today we find Jay Street as a short cobbled block, wedged between Greenwich Street and Hudson Street. Located in what is known as the “Tribeca West Historic District,” and it’s history can be traced back to around 1790. Back then, though, the street stretched out to the Hudson River and onto a pier. Now, P.S. 150 stands between Jay Street and the water.
Named after John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States as well as governor of New York, the 13 buildings on the block were constructed by 1931. The businesses we can trace back to the street are a tobacco processing factory, then a fruit market, a nut-roasting factory, and most recently, even a butter factory. Associations of the street as a Designation Report by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission lists, include “the egg, cheese, and nut industries” and services such as hospital, shipping, and banking were also present. Today, the street is home to a few people, as these commercial spaces became lofts and residential homes.
Beautiful ones at that. Some link following deep into the Internet led me to believe that this recently renovated loft is located at 16 Jay Street and was sold a few years ago for just under $5,000,000 ($1,300 per square foot). 16 Jay Street used to be home to Hotel Butter Bar (a butter manufacturer), but has evidently gone through some changes.
// September 20, 2011 //
On the corner of Jay St. and Greenwich St. stands an attractive block of a building. At the bottom is a cafe/bar/restaurant, shaded by a permanent, metal awning (is there an official word for one of those?). The building seems to be very officially labeled as the “Bazzini Building,” the letters arching around the top-most window, and “1886” underneath.
Curious as to who the Bazzini’s were, and how much influence they must have on this street, I decided to look into this sign. While I doubted the building was still owned by a certain Bazzini, the fact that the name still marked the building intrigued me.
Erected in 1887, (though the Bazzini business was started in 1886, hence the date on the building), it was built for a certain John H. Mohlmann, designed by C. Wilson Atkins. Mohlmann’s history has been somewhat erased or at least rarely mentioned, but his family owned a wholesale grocery business. Yet, in 1943, the Bazzini family purchased the building. As MNS mentions in its neighbor hood guide, “the Bazzini Brothers Company’s plan was to move to this location to provide an array of fine foods and gourmet offerings through its first floor retail store.”
In 1983, the store was bought by Rocco Damato and Jim Strong. They continued to produce food for the store just like had been done for decades before, but production later had to shift to North Carolina. Quoted in a 1997 NYTimes article, “Candy, Nuts and a Bite of History Moves On,” Damato said that, he was “the last food manufacturer in TriBeCa” but real estate taxes were just too high. The store on the first floor, though, survived for a bit longer. Bazzini’s was “perhaps the nicest country general store in Manhattan” but, as of January 2010, it was closed down. Perhaps this is due to the fact that a Whole Foods opened just seven blocks away in 2008, which is a sad ending to a long history. Today, in it’s place, we find Sarabeth’s, a restaurant which opened just about one month ago.
// September 27, 2011 //
The walk of a New Yorker in New York more distinct than any other walker in any other city. So when asking a New Yorker to spend time on a city street (imagine, looking up at buildings! taking photos! watching others hurry), there’s really no other word than awkward. Even if they aren’t particularly rushed, New Yorkers must act that way – for appearances’ sake (you don’t want to seem the sole New Yorker without a place to be) and for the sake of others rushing around them. And yet, here I was, meandering from one side of street to the other, spending a generous time on the cobblestone road itself, taking photos of this, that, & the other thing. Exhibit A:
On the bright side, not too many people visit Jay Street. It’s short and residential, so most people don’t have much business there. That is, until the end of the school day. Because at the other end of the street, the building we see is PS 150. And my meandering took long enough that kids and parents began to spill out onto my empty haven. It was evident that all of sudden, people on Jay Street had somewhere to be. Dinners had to be made, homework to be done, afternoon shows to be watched. Some kids walked home together, others recounted their day to mothers (or were they babysitters?) who absentmindedly pushed strollers.
I wondered if my behavior bothered them. I imagine it made them feel slight unease, but they probably just thought of me as a tourist admiring the architecture (because New Yorkers evidently can’t admire architecture if they aren’t turning pages in a glossy book). And Brian Morris in his piece, “What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Walking in the City,'” reinforces Michel de Certeau’s idea of the “users” versus the “others.” The others, here though refers to the institution who has it’s own idea of how the street should be utilized (back when it was mapped and cobbled, it was to be used for mercantile purposes). But in this case, I like to think of myself as such an “other,” who cannot even begin to piece together the “users” of Jay Street. I visited around four PM, thinking that just like at most other hours, I wouldn’t bump into anyone: I, the other, had believed that only residents utilized this street, and these residents would be still be at work so that they could pay for their million dollar lofts. Until the street was flooded by a demographic of “users” even younger than myself.
1. Morris, Brian: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Walking in the City”
The Times Have Changed
// October 4, 2011 //
Jay Street is an ambiguous term to search in the New York Times Historical Database (primarily because the Jay Street in Brooklyn is much more popular, due mostly to the fact that a subway stop is so named). But one character continues to pop up (in a whopping heap of 3 articles). Here is a somewhat incomplete account of the life of Frederick Akers based solely on those 3 articles.
1836 Frederick Akers is born in England.
18?? Mr. Akers moves to America and becomes a “butcher’s apprentice on Staten Island.”
18?? Mr. Akers develops a passion for horses.
18?? Mr. Akers establishes a soap factory in Brooklyn.
1870 Mr. Akers establishes a coffee roasting business, Atlas Coffee, at 16 Jay Street.
1888 Frederick Akers “is accused by the Board of Health of maintaing a nuisance. . . The indictement . . . alleges that the smell of burning coffee is offensive and disagreeable. . . Ex-Judge Busteed argued that the smell of roasting coffee was a very good sort of smell indeed, and he read from scientific books to show that it was a health smell. . . Assistant District Attorney Davis conceded that the smell of coffee when roasting was healthful, but asserted that under circumstances it might become obnoxious.”
1892 Frederick Akers writes a will.
April 1901 Frederick Akers states that he has a will in “the vaults of a safe deposit company.” An hour later, he dies.
May 1901 Mr. Akers’ will is still causing trouble: “the lawyer who drew the document” is dead, one of the executors of the will is also dead, and the other executor “knows nothing about the will.” “No will was found at” 16 Jay Street. But then they searched a box at a safe deposit company and indeed found a will. The will was then moved to a safe at 16 Jay Street.
Except this will did not settle anything: someone mentioned that “Mr. Akers told a number of people that he had made a new will, and some of his friends believe that this will will be found.” If the issue was resolved, then the New York Times did not report any updates.
Mr. Akers’ favorite horse, Idle Gift, was the “horse which was led directly behind the hearse at his funeral.”
Suffice to say, times have changed, and the drama we read about in the New York Times is now of a slightly different caliber.
And while no photos were provided by the New York Times database, a little internet searching can give our coffee-roasting-friend Fred Akers a face.
The photo is evidently staged, as most photos from this time undoubtedly were, though I could not trace this photograph to any specific photographer. Surprisingly, one interesting thing to notice is the fact that these men barely look like when we envision New York City, even one hundred years ago. Sitting on what seems to be a porch on wooden chairs, all dressed in clothes reminiscent of English aristocracy, sporting wonderful beards, moustaches and hats, perhaps New York City is the last place I’d put them.
1. “Aroma of Roasting Coffee.” New York Times (1857-1922): 8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) with Index (1851-1993). Dec 08 1888. Web. 4 Oct. 2011 <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/94638963?accountid=12768>.
2. “Mr. Akers’s Lost Will.” New York Times (1857-1922): 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) with Index (1851-1993). May 15 1901. Web. 4 Oct. 2011 <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96121237?accountid=12768>.
3. “An Alleged Akers Will.” New York Times (1857-1922): 6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007) with Index (1851-1993). May 17 1901. Web. 4 Oct. 2011 <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96117025?accountid=12768>.
4. Ukers, William H. “Development of the Green and Roasted Coffee Business in the United States.” Web-Books. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.web-books.com/Classics/ON/B0/B701/35MB701.html>.
// October 16, 2011 //
The word itself musters up feelings of dark and dusty files, fragile and yellowed paper, a place only the truly determined venture into. So I thought that going into the New York Public Library’s Digital Archives would be a relatively painless way to get the job done. While my fingertips may remain clean and my allergies did not start acting up as I browsed through dated photos from a hundred years ago, it was barely a gratifying experience. I say this to explain the mediocre character of the photos that follow, which only just help me delve deeper into Jay Street. The interface of the Digital Archives is miserable and could only ween out the following snapshots of a greater whole.
The above photo was taken in 1928, and shows Hudson Street from left to right, but the cross-street going into the back of the photo is actually Jay Street. Beyond the buildings is the Hudson River, and we see that below the photographer was an area of construction/an empty lot. A search on the NYCityMap (http://gis.nyc.gov/) shows that the records do indeed match (though why wouldn’t they?) the photograph: the construction site sits on the address 56 Hudson St., and is now home to a building that cuts off Jay Street. This building was finished in 1938 (ten years after this photo was taken).
This is a photo from 1930 of the intersection between Washington Street and Jay Street. If you were to try to visit it today, you’d find yourself in the middle of P.S. 150., which today cuts Jay Street off from the Hudson River. The map below was drawn up in 1897, showing that over 100 years ago, Jay Street did in fact cross Washington and West Streets before hitting the river.
Today, of course, West Street is also known as 9A, a major highway running along the Hudson River. A photo of West Street in 1930 is unrecognizable.
As a comparison, below a screenshot taken from Google Maps Street View at the very same spot on West St. as above.
One final detail rests in the next two photos (they are intersections with Jay Street, the first with Greenwich Street and the second with Washington Street), both taken in 1937.
True to the times, the photos are linked by the standing billboards. Need a closer look?
Taken two years after the enactment of the WPA in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we clearly see evidence of government propaganda (I don’t mean this word with its negative connotations, but more in terms of promotion and advertising) as the United States tried to get back up on it’s feet. These are vestiges of a moment that was as real as, say, the Great Recession or even the Occupy Wall Street protests are today. Commonplace at the time, today we are only familiar with the moment through history books until at some point, we come across the residue in archives when we were looking for something quite else.
Archive photos were taken from the NYPL Digital Gallery.
Links, in order:
// October 18, 2011 //
I combed over for mentions of Jay Street, not really expecting to find one: Jay Street is barely mentioned in historical documents, it’s a small hidden street that not many (except for the students at P.S. 150 facing the street) are familiar with. I didn’t find anything, but expanded my search to include the surrounding area. It turns out that if you’re looking for literary references in, say, the Tribeca area, the only course of action would be to read any and all books that take place in New York City and wait for a brief mention to pop up. The problem with Tribeca specifically is that a lot of fiction does happen in that neighborhood, but in the form of film screenings and less so in the written word (or at least, the film culture dominates any web searches, concealing any and all literary references).
I was therefore excited to find the New York Times “Literary Map of Manhattan” and anxiously scrolled down to Tribeca. My excitement flooded away instantly when I noticed the sparse documentation in the area I was concerned with. The only posted reference was from Philip Roth’s novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (which I haven’t read, but have added to my reading list because of this), which includes the quote, “Doesn’t he know that what I do for a living is I’m good? ‘Civil Service,’ I answered, pointing across to 30 Worth. Mister Modesty.”
30 Worth is located a block away from Jay Street, and I considered this to be a victory, until I realized that this did nothing for me. But after last week’s investigation into archival resources, I thought maybe taking a look at the NYC.gov’s City Map again to inspect 30 Worth a little closer. No avail (I seem to be hitting a lot of dead ends in this assignment). Maybe Google could point me in the right direction? A search for 30 Worth Street in Manhattan produced no viable results. It seems as though 30 Worth Street is an adress that does not really exist: there is no building there as Portnoy’s Complaint might lead us to believe.
Though I haven’t read the book, I cannot say what this might mean to the novel. Did Philip Roth do this on purpose? Did he know that 30 Worth Street was not a real address, therefore giving him the freedom to invent a space that was not bound by history? Or was he unaware, pulling a number and a street name from the top of his head? The latter, though, is highly unlikely, in the case of great writers who put great scrutiny into details such as these.
Here, then, we see a perfect example of spaces in New York City portrayed in fiction. For an average reader (one that most likely is not as familiar as a local would be with the city), 30 Worth Street means nothing. It doesn’t sound like the average numerical New York address. And even to New Yorkers, the address is simply reminiscent mainly of an area near City Hall, and perhaps brings to mind the Financial District to some. And yet, only residents of the area, maybe only ones that live on that stretch of Worth Street between West Broadway and Church Street would be aware that 30 Worth is imagined (a very small number of people, indeed). And perhaps that’s the point: for as little people as possible to know the truth about 30 Worth, giving Roth endless possibility of imagination and construction of a place in New York City (which usually only the luckiest and most talented of architects in the world are allowed to do).
// October 25, 2011 //
Films today love destruction, especially after the advent of CGI. While fifty years ago, crumbling, burning, or drowning cities was hard to make look real, today, such images look truly authentic. This gives movie-makers the freedom to play with big ideas, such as, very commonly, what would happen to the world if New York City was leveled to the ground (usually, though not always, by natural disaster). One can almost call it an emotional fetish: imagining nature swiftly destroying everything that humans have so long strived to create, usually ending, though, with the optimistic idea of a fresh slate that humanity could start from.
So it’s really no surprise that the filming location closest to Jay Street was featured in a movie about two comets headed towards Earth (one that would cause a tsunami across the planet, the second that, being “the size of Manhattan,” would obliterate the Earth’s surface and everyone on it). In short, the 1998 film Deep Impact, starring Robert Duvall and Elijah Wood, can even get emotional at times, seeing as the U.S. government announces that there will be a lottery for 800,000 to be given shelter in a tunnel system built to keep a million people alive for two years so that they could repopulate the Earth post-comet. But there are some reservations, for example the fact that people over age 50 are automatically eliminated from the lottery, or one of the main characters marries his girlfriend (they are in high school) for eligibility reasons (well, he does it to save her, so for love reasons as well).
Towards the very end of the movie are scenes of a drowning New York City. These buildings, which are familiar to most everyone who would see the movie, seem to serve as a representation of the fate of every city. Yet there is something more profoundly impacting to see the greatest city in the world, hundreds of years in the making, representative of art, fashion, architecture, finance, and everything really, become obliterated.
The specific moment in question here though, is the 2 seconds featuring the corner of West Broadway and Thomas Street (a block from Jay Street), “footage” moments after the tsunami hits Lower Manhattan. The reason this was the location for this shot was because West Broadway faces South towards where the World Trade Center stood, therefore making the transition from the water crashing into the buildings and then onto the street possible.
For the most part, it’s unrecognizable. The architecture is indeed that of Tribeca, most evident by the buildings closest to the viewer on the right, residential lofts converted from their industrial purposes of the 1800s. But this moment, before the water crashes and drowns the buildings is so brief, that to most, the historic neighborhood would be unrecognizable.
Yet, this speaks to the integrity of the film. While many movies today may do their filming in a studio, especially for a scene that barely lasts 2 seconds (and in those two seconds, the street is destroyed), the filmmaker here opted to catch a shot of the street before turning it over to the CGI team. Indeed, perhaps the scene was longer, but got cut? Furthermore, the tsunami follows a logical path through the city. First we see the Twin Towers becoming submerged, then this moment in Tribeca, then Washington Square, then Times Square. Such integrity is something New Yorkers can appreciate (because we know if the Times Square preceded the Washington Square shot, all New Yorkers in the movie theaters would nudge their friends and say angrily, “The director couldn’t even go out and buy a map of the city?”).
And perhaps even New Yorkers didn’t notice the problem in the moment above: the fact that the wave was coming from the North when the wave is actually moving towards the North. Oops. But the moment is so fleeting, that it’s almost unnoticeable (especially since most viewers are probably more focused on the drama of the scene).
// November 1, 2011 //
Bright. After dark, Jay Street is surprisingly bright, two lampposts in the middle of the block being the offenders (not to mention the car parked in the middle of the street). Of course, perhaps most notable though is the idea of the internal versus external and the fact that residents of Jay Street do not bother with curtains, as evident by the photo below of the Bazzini Building. Not a single curtain. Therefore, I was given the opportunity to ogle the beautiful lofts with their minimalist decor.
A boutique on the street was closing up, and it seemed to bustle more than it ever does during the day: a guy sweeping and a girl organizing and arranging before heading home. Actually, Jay Street was busier than I expected: a man walked his two dogs, an older woman leaving her apartment, a younger guy with a backpack eying me curiously as to why I was standing on the corner seemingly not doing anything.
And I was most surprised when, innocently standing on a corner holding my phone and looking up, a woman in her early thirties perhaps asked me if I needed directions somewhere. Trying not to be too offended, I laughed and said that I was just getting to know the street. But I quickly also asked, “Wait, but do you live here? On this block?”
“Yeah, I live in the area. Is there anything I can help you with?” She walked up closer to me.
“Oh, well I’ve been researching this street -“
She walked past me a bit and pointed up to a crosswalk suspended between two buildings. This crosswalk, I must mention, is not located on Jay Street but on more of an alleyway (though it’s called Staple Street), but connects two buildings on Jay Street itself. And while I’ve noticed it, I’ve never really given it much thought since it’s a little off from my subject area.
“So I don’t know much about the history of this street, but I had a friend who was doing a photoshoot from down that street. And that up there,” she points again to the old and unused crosswalk, “I think she said that they used it to move horses from one building to the other. I’m not sure whether they still use it today, but there used to be stables here. Which is why this street is called Staple Street.”
A crosswalk for horses, well that was certainly interesting. Instead of walking the horses on the ground, they walked them through this tunnel suspended in the air?
This information, though, that she was telling me, really had nothing to do with Jay Street at night. But what was interesting is how eager she was to talk to a stranger on the street. She was pretty and dressed up, not too fancy, but probably to meet up with a friend. We chitchatted for a bit, and I thanked her, but before she left, the woman apologized for thinking that I needed directions.
This probably interested me most of all: she was essentially apologizing to me for assuming that I didn’t know my way around, or perhaps for assuming I was a tourist or foreigner. To me, this proves two things: 1. that New Yorkers are friendly and very eager to help yet 2. a New Yorker would never ever want to be labeled as a tourist. So much so, that if the mistake is made, one might even apologize for assuming the worst.
// November 8, 2011 //
Jay Street has managed to escape from public view once again. As I’ve mentioned before, a much more renowned Jay Street in Brooklyn seems to have been filmed hundreds of times (from Boardwalk Empire to Prime Suspect to Rubicon just to name a few), and overshadows any excitement that the Manhattan Jay Street could hope to find. And if Jay Street itself wasn’t showing up in any filmings, well then, next best thing, I figured, might be to look into Staple Street. Becoming intrigued by my conversation with the woman on Jay Street last week (who knew nothing about Jay Street, but had quite a few stories about Staple Street), I found that Staple Street, though smaller and more of an alleyway that doesn’t even appear on Google streetview, gets more press.
That’s not to say that Jay Street has never been filmed – that’s an impossible allegation in New York City, but simply that records seem to slip through more often because projects are smaller and more sparse.
I wish I had thought to look into movie shootings two weeks ago, because amidst my research, I learned that it’s actually in that dark alley that John C. Reilly is killed by Ed Harris in the film State of Grace. And then I came across the mention that the Vampire Weekend video, Cousins, was shot on Staple Street. Amidst my excitement and calculations that if this was true, then the crew (although Jay Street wouldn’t have made an appearance in the video) must have set up camp on Jay Street. And I even typed half a post about it until more research proved that my original source was incorrect and the alleyway the video was filmed in was actually Cortlandt Alley near Chinatown. So for now, the search continues…
// November 15, 2011 //
I’m not even surprised that Jay Street was noisier than I expected it to be. This particular evening, someone was moving out of their apartment (you can hear the movers talking as I approach them, and the screech of packing tape as they secure items in the moving truck). There are cars driving and braking in the background (coming from Greenwich Street), a bicycle bell ringing incessantly, a young child calling out to a parent in the distance, and once I started moving away from the bustle, my footsteps. Simply listening to the recording seems somewhat ominous though, because in any other recording, say a movie or even a radio show, we would expect for a moment of drama to arise. Whenever I replay this clip and forget what I’m listening to, I catch myself waiting for a voice to yell out and engage with the walker (me) or maybe expect the footsteps to begin to go faster, maybe even break into a run: these imagined scenarios of action or plot speak to our normal perceptions of audio and how different these perceptions are compared to how we really walk down streets when usually, nothing happens.
Contrasting to the Harlem neighborhood Corbould describes, Jay Street doesn’t seem too… neighborly. Or at least the neighbors keep to themselves in their own buildings and don’t spill onto the street. Again, most of the people on the street were ones that don’t actually live there – passersby, diners at Sarabeth’s restaurant on the corner, the movers, me – not even the people actually leaving Jay Street were outside.
Then again, I don’t spend much time outside on the block that I live on in Brooklyn (though my building does have it’s share of stoop people).
One thing that is a giveaway on the street though, is the sound of the cobblestone: every time a car drives slowly past, the gentle wobbling resonance of the tires on the uneven street certainly give it a more homely and old-time feel (contrasted to a smooth road, on which a car does not need to slow down as much). In essence, Jay Street, as you can hear from the recording, undoubtedly sounds like a city street with a gentle hubbub of people doing their own thing and going their own places.
// November 21, 2011 //